Going into a pitch without a good pitch deck is like going into battle without armor: you could well be in for a world of hurt. But having a great pitch deck going in will help calm your nerves with the knowledge that your business is going to be presented clearly and attractively, no matter what happens in the meeting.

With that in mind, we've created the Ultimate Pitch Deck Checklist, which covers everything from style to substance to format.

General Tips

Plan to use 10 or fewer slides, 15 at the absolute maximum. Your presentation should be thorough, but don't over-provide information to the point where investors’ imaginations have no room to run wild. Venture capital powerhouse Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson even recommends limiting it to 6.

Each slide should be as visual as possible. Charts, tables and pictures are all gold. Investors don't want to read memos (or hear you reading memos) -- they get enough of those elsewhere during the workday. Keep things visual, and make your presentation stand out.

The slides should be arranged to tell a story. Organizing your slides correctly is vital: together, they need to form a complete narrative, from problem to solution to future plans.

Make the deck compelling with or without your narration. Hopefully, your deck will eventually get passed around, so make sure it works without you there to verbally tie each slide together. Along those same lines, make sure the file size is manageable enough to be emailed around.

Have a great one-liner. Your elevator pitch needs to be razor sharp, and it needs to be contained in a single sentence (or even a single clause). The "we are X for Y" structure can be useful here (e.g. “we are the Yelp for fashion”).

Demo the product! While this isn't strictly part of deck building, any business with a product ought to construct their pitch deck under the assumption that the pitch itself will include a product demo. When prepping for the demo itself, remember to:

  • Be mindful of time. As successful angel investor Jason Calacanis says, "The longer it takes for you to show your product, the worse your product is. Folks who have a kick-ass product don’t spend five or ten minutes ‘setting the stage’ or ‘giving the background.’”
  • Have a backup. Even if your product is foolproof... it isn't.

Keeping those general tips in mind, individual slides should include:

  • The Big Idea. Summarize your company with a great elevator pitch.
  • The Problem. Your job here is to make investors feel the pain: make them understand why this problem is so significant and what's to be gained from solving it.
  • The Solution. Not just how do you solve the problem, but how do you solve it better than everyone else. This is also a great place to talk about your team and why they're uniquely qualified to solve the problem.
  • Business Model. Simply put: how will you make money? One-off payments? Recurring? Affiliations? Chances are you've brainstormed numerous potential revenue streams for different phases of your business, but try to focus on the main one here.
  • Marketing/Sales. Impress upon investors the enormous size (and projected growth) of the market you're entering. Failing that, communicate how deeply you'll be able to penetrate a more modestly sized market.
  • Competition. A comparative chart can be extremely useful here: run competitors on one axis and features on the other, then use checks or X's to show that your product is the only one with all your features. (Slide 13 of this slideshare presentation has a great example.) Make sure to highlight any large barriers to entry in the market that you've overcome (and any future competitors will eventually have to).
  • Projections or Milestones. If you're far enough along to make projections that are more than just speculative or hopeful guesses, great. But few startups are that far along at their earliest stages, so prepare to rely on past milestones if that's the case for you. Projecting the number of users by a certain date or partnerships with other companies can work well here.
  • Financing. Already raised money? You'll need to disclose how much and from whom. Haven't been able to secure investment yet? Then spin that as a positive, talking about how much you've been able to do without funding. Most importantly, be specific about how much you're looking to raise and exactly what that money will be going towards.

Finally, remember to clearly define an exit strategy: investors are always considering returns and the end game.